As Butcher & CEO of NYC’s Fleishers, Samantha Garwin has become an inspiration to women in the culinary world. With a career that began in the tech-startup scene, her journey has been an amazing adventure that is worth paying attention to. Sam’s a badass in her own right and we’re proud to showcase her for Women’s Month.
1. What is Fleishers and what is your role?
Fleishers runs four NYC-based butcher shops that partner with small, local farmers who understand that caring for animals means caring for the land, and that doing both of those things right produces the best-tasting meat in the world. My business card reads “Butcher & CEO.”
2. Can you give us a brief background on how you got to where you are in your career?
I studied Information Science at Cornell, and straight out of college I worked at a tech start-up in Cambridge, Mass as a product manager. But as soon as the workday was over, I wanted nothing to do with software – I wanted to be dining at Boston’s best restaurants, perusing the farmers market discovering new ingredients, or pacing my kitchen figuring out how to cook them. My passion for good eating led to a passion for good sourcing, and soon enough I was spending my Saturday mornings helping a local farm slaughter chickens.
I came to Fleishers because of a personal crisis about eating meat which led me to first stop eating it altogether, and then to eat it only when I knew exactly where it came from. I started as an apprentice – my stage wasn’t intended to be a career move, per se – but quickly fell in love with the craft, and found that I was surrounded by ‘like-minded fools’ who believed that this business could make a real difference in the food system. So I stayed, took on as much responsibility as I could, said ‘yes’ to every opportunity for growth, and learned as I went.
3. What are some benefits of being a female in your position?
Any time you don’t fit a stereotypical aesthetic, you’re bound for some entertaining interactions. Since I usually go by my nickname, “Sam,” I get the occasional accidental element of surprise when meeting a business contact face-to-face for the first time. I have fun with it, using the misunderstanding as an opportunity to start the relationship off with a laugh.
4. What are some challenges you face being female in this industry? And how do you overcome them?
The challenges come when peoples’ assumptions about gender get in the way of them accepting you in your role. In the early years of working behind the counter in the butcher shop, certain customers would make a point asking if they could “speak with one of the butchers,” because they assumed I wasn’t one. And these days, if a vendor comes in asking to speak to “the boss” and is directed to me, they often do a verbal double-take, wanting to verify that I am in fact the CEO, as if I might have misunderstood the question.
I overcome these uncomfortable situations by first and foremost staying calm, and not getting personally offended. Most often it is ignorance, not malice, that causes people to be disrespectful, and I take great joy in setting the record straight. A gentle, friendly correction is usually enough to get most folks back on track, but if subtlety doesn’t work I will occasionally take someone aside and privately point out their misstep. I specialize in killing with kindness.
I’m also proud to say that at Fleishers we do our part to employ women in butchery and leadership roles. One of my favorite Fleishers moments was at our Upper East Side shop not too long after it opened. I was filling in for the shop’s head butcher, Lupin, and helped an older gentleman who, when we got to the checkout counter, asked me if all the butchers at Fleishers were women!
5. Being in a position that is primarily held by men in your industry, what female attributes do you think help you in your role?
Butchers are stereotypically male because of the physical aspect of the job – it’s hard, heavy, dangerous work. CEOs are stereotypically male because of the power aspect of the job – it’s high-pressure, high-impact work. When taking on either role for the first time, a natural but very masculine approach is to apply force, perhaps even aggressively at times, to get what you want from your knife or from your people. In contrast, my approach is to learn everything I can about the situation – the animal’s anatomy, or the business decision at hand – and apply only the necessary force, allowing me to conserve physical strength and social capital for when I need it most.
6. Any words of advice for future female F&B industry leaders?
Show up, say ‘yes,’ and ask for what you want. Don’t take ‘no’ personally – take it as feedback, go back to the drawing board, and try again. Take responsibility for your personal and professional growth. In the word of Seth Godin, “It’s always your turn.” And remember to have fun!
Written by La Colombe Sales Executive,